Jake looked comforted by that. He relaxed and let his head fall back against the chair. “I saw your postcards.”
For the past couple years, I’d been selling my landscape pictures as postcards in the gift shops around town. They were selling well, and recently one of my better-selling cards had been chosen for a state calendar. It wasn’t going to make me rich. But with that in addition to my job at the shop, I could take care of my baby and myself. That was all that mattered.
“Where did you see them?”
“Reggie.” He turned to face me. “He sent me a socket I needed to fix my bike. When I opened the box, there were your cards. He stuck ten or twelve of them in there. I didn’t even need to see the signature in the corner to know they were yours.”
“They’re fucking beautiful, Bee.”
I didn’t know what to think of that. “Thanks.” I could almost feel my heart beating back to life with each word he spoke. Soon, I would be back to where I was four years ago, melting in his hands. I couldn’t listen to him be nice to me. I wanted him to yell at me, be cruel to me— scream at me if he had to. It would have been so much easier to let him go all over again if I’d hated him, if he hated me. Instead, his kind words caused so much conflict within.
I was so distracted with Jake I didn’t hear the sliding glass door open. When Jake’s gaze widened and focused past my chair, I knew someone was behind me. I turned to see Georgia, standing on the patio, rubbing her eyes with her fists. Her night shirt was tucked into her underwear, and her favorite Raggedy Ann doll was being strangled in the crook of her arm.
“Georgia, baby, what are you doing up?”
She came over and crawled onto my lap, almost knocking me over as she did. I was glad I’d already put the pipe back in its hiding place. I may not have been June Cleaver, but I did my best to keep up appearances.
“I couldn’t sleep.” She shifted around in my lap until she was facing away from me. She didn’t even notice our guest until she’d stopped squirming. “Mama?” She tugged at my shirt and pointed to Jake.
“Georgia, this is an old friend of Mama’s. This is Jake.” To my surprise, Jake held out his hand, and she immediately took it.
“Pleased to meet you, Georgia.” He looked her over cautiously. Neither of them took their hands away from the other. They were both smiling, like they were sharing a secret I wasn’t in on.
Knowing about the pretending we’d done with his picture, I was nervous about what would happen next. She left my lap and crawled right into Jake’s, as if she had done it a hundred times before. He didn’t seem to mind. He studied her like she was a puzzle he was trying to figure out while she climbed all over him.
Georgia was comfortably snuggled onto Jake’s chest with her head nestled in the crook of his arm before I could stop her. “Baby girl, why don’t you let our guest relax on his chair by himself, and I’ll tuck you back into bed,” I said carefully. “You need to go back to sleep.”
“But, Mama,” she said as her eyes lit up. “I can’t go to sleep now. Daddy’s here!”
Fuck my life.
I TUCKED GEORGIA BACK INTO HER BED and sang her to sleep. Lullabies? Not for my kid. The song of the evening, per her request, had been “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John. That was definitely Frank’s fault. He had given her an iPod for Christmas last year, pre-loaded with her favorite songs from his record collection.
I did my best, but I was no Elton.
Wherever Frank was now, I knew he was laughing at me.
Fuck you, Frank.
Jake was leaning against the counter when I returned to him. He had his legs crossed at the ankles, his arms folded in front of him and a huge, shit-eating grin on his face.
“What?” I asked.
“Nice song,” he teased.
I felt redness creep up my cheeks. “That’s Frank’s fault. Him and his goddamned record collection.” I laughed. “I’ve tried to just play her music at night, but she insists I sing to her.”
“Spoiled girl.” I looked around at my bare living room, suddenly embarrassed by my lack of furniture. “I’d offer you a seat, but there aren’t any.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” he said, glancing around the empty space.
“The patio chairs are pretty much it for now, as far as furniture goes,” I said. Jake nodded. I noticed that as he interacted with me, his gaze never shifted from the door of Georgia’s room.